The City of Angels offers tourists a heavenly number of star-studded attractions. Many come with sky-high price tags, but not all. Some of the best sights, sounds, attractions and activities in the city are free.
Visitors can join Angelenos at play, gain an insider’s appreciation of the city and indulge in a plethora of pleasures without paying a penny.
Here’s where to go and what to do to maximize the Los Angeles experience:
Life is a beach in LA. As if ocean, sunshine and long stretches of soft sand aren’t enough, LA beaches come with all sorts of enhancements. The beaches are free for the access, but they vary in style, substance and extracurricular activities (that may come with fees).
A sign marks the end of the historic route 66 as people walk on the Santa Monica Pier on April 30, 2021 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)
Santa Monica State Beach
All day and well into the night, the Santa Monica State Beach brims with fun. During the day, over 2 miles of sandy coastline lures beach lovers with surfing, swimming, sunbathing and a variety of sports. The 114-year-old Santa Monica Pier (the iconic end point of Route 66 — selfie anyone?) is a bright and buzzing spot from which to watch the sunset over the Pacific. The pier’s fee-based fun includes an amusement park, aquarium and food outlets.
Tourists from around the world head to Venice Beach, not so much for sunbathing and swimming — although there is that, but rather to soak up the vibrant, boho spirit. Stroll along the2-plus-mile boardwalk rich with street performers, art galleries, casual food outlets and quirky souvenir shops. Gawk at the scantily dressed skaters who whiz around and the perfectly toned bodybuilders working out at Muscle Beach, an outdoor gym where the famous train. Participate in activities on the fishing pier, at the skate park, on different sports courts, or simply stroll and savor the scene.
Mellow weather. Flourishing flora and fauna. Panoramic views. LA provides the perfect setting for year-round hiking. These two exceedingly popular urban parks are filled with trails ranging from easy to challenging. Note: Best to wear sunscreen and hydrate when tackling any trail.
Tourists walk around the Griffith Observatory on the south-facing slope of Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, California, on July 25, 2023. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)
This city-owned park spreads over 4,200 acres at the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountain range and offers hikers a broad range of excitements, including breathtaking trails leading to the Griffith Observatory (free to visit — except for planetarium shows). Griffith Park is also home to the Hollywood Sign, as well as some of its best viewpoints. Leashed dogs are welcome on the trails.
Runyon Canyon Park
Highly popular with locals, so a bit crowded (think celebrities and those who come to see celebrities), Runyon Canyon Park covers 160 acres in the heart of Hollywood. Trails offer workouts of various difficulties and steep rises yield sweeping views of Hollywood, downtown LA and even Catalina Island on clear days. Don’t miss Rock Mandala, a meditative circle designed by artist Robert Wilson. The park sports some off-leash areas for canine companions.
Some are large. Some are small. And most are just right to delight a variety of special interests. LA hosts a wealth of museums dedicated to different subjects. While some charge hefty fees, a few display their treasures free of charge.
Although entrance is free, these museums require advance reservations with timed entrance (available on each museum’s website). Prepare to be wowed!
This crown jewel of the LA art scene sits at the top of a hill in the Santa Monica Mountains in Brentwood. Visitors must park in a designated lot (for a hefty fee) at the hill’s base and take a free, four-minute tram up to the center. With more than 120,000 objects in its collection, the center’s exhibits cover a broad time frame — from the Middle Ages to today — and a wide range of subjects including illuminated manuscripts, photography, decorative arts, sculpture and painting (from Rembrandt to Manet). Captivating modern architecture, lush landscaping and spectacular views complete the picture. More information at getty.edu/visit/center
The Broad comtemporary art museum in Los Angeles, California is seen on November 15, 2021 ahead of the exhibition ‘Since Unveiling: Selected Acquisitions of a Decade’, which opens on November 20. – The Broad hosts a Diversity Apprenticeship Program, an initiative to create career opportunities for underrepresented communities in the museum field. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
A modern architectural wonder located downtown, The Broad is a must-visit for fans of contemporary art. Galleries showcase works of more than 200 artists including such popular favorites as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. Timed entrance tickets give access to Yayoi Kusama’s incredible Infinity Mirror Room — one of the most popular installations in Los Angeles. More information at thebroad.org
The ethnic communities of LA cover the world. Take your pick: Thai Town, Chinatown, Cambodia Town and the “Littles,” such as Little Saigon, Armenia, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Moscow and many more. These are the places to explore different cultures, try special foods, shop for imports and enjoy unique festivals that express the neighborhood’s celebratory joy. Two to try:
The 3 square miles that make up Koreatown are packed with trendy fun. Shops, bars and particularly restaurants draw customers from all over Los Angeles. According to DiscoverLosAngeles.com, Koreatown not only houses more Koreans than anywhere else in the world outside of Korea, but also holds one of the largest concentrations of nightclubs and 24-hour businesses and restaurants in the country, and contains more large malls than any other similar-sized area in the U.S.
Little Tokyo began life in the 1880s, was recognized as a historic landmark in 1986, and remains the culture core for LA’s Japanese descendants. Covering an area of about five city blocks in downtown LA, the district holds the Japanese American Community and Cultural Center; the lovely, serene Garden of the Clear Stream; Buddhist temples; and shops selling video games and anime. Eateries specialize in Japanese delights such as ramen and sushi (the famed California roll was supposedly invented here).
Nightlife and entertainment
Yes, it is possible to go clubbing, attend concerts, discover new comedians and enjoy assorted entertainment in LA for free. Check online for free listings and tickets at TimeOut, Eventbrite and Discotech.
Only window shopping is free, but there are two areas where one can window shop and people watch — win-wins easy on the budget.
A 2-mile street flashing famous shops, glitzy boutiques and legendary fashion houses, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills draws the wealthy Hollywood crowd. Pretty women shop here. Celebrities with tons of money do too. Good place to see how the other half fills their closets.
The Grove and The Original Farmers Market
Referred to as an open-air mall, The Grove in LA’s Melrose neighborhood emits an upscale, small-town main street ambiance. A double-deck trolley (free rides) travels the central corridor, looping around a water fountain that dances to piped tunes of Frank Sinatra and his contemporaries. The mall offers popular retail shops (See’s Candies gives free samples — yippee), a movie theater and restaurants. Next door, The Original Farmers Market, dating to 1934, draws both locals and tourists to enjoy shopping at the stalls of gourmet food purveyors that fill the market.
Catching the Vibe
Tour downtown to see rich and diverse architectural gems. Don’t miss the shining, stunningly dramatic Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Pay tribute to celebrities at both the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in the forecourt of the nearby TCL Chinese Theatre (also known as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre).
Drive (or stroll) through Beverly Hills to see celebrity homes (from a distance).
Cruise along Mulholland Drive (avoid rush hour) for glorious views captured in many movie scenes.
Look here, there, everywhere to behold awesome street art. Sculptures sit on street corners. Installations front buildings. Murals cover walls. Graffiti brightens alleys.